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Three Lesser-Known Oregon Coast Hikes to Explore This Summer

If you’re looking to maintain social distance even after getting vaccinated, here are some alternative hikes to try next time you venture westward.

As summer approaches, Oregonians are naturally pulled toward the coast. It’s a respite from the 80-plus-degree temps that begin to seep into Portland come June, and it’s also the best time to experience coastal hiking without the constant threat of rain. Of course, many favorite trails tend to get overcrowded this time of year. If you’re looking to maintain social distance even after getting vaccinated, here are some alternative hikes to try next time you venture westward.

Skipanon River Loop

Not far from the Fort Stevens Historical Area in Warrenton, the Skipanon River Loop is an easy, flat stroll that takes you along a quiet river trail with opportunities for bird watching. You can begin at either Skipanon River Park or the Lighthouse Park Trailhead, where you’ll find a small museum and maritime memorial. From the trailhead, follow the trail sign and make a left onto Harbor Drive and then walk under a road bridge to the trail. Walk alongside the Skipanon River on a paved path—there’s a fair amount of bird droppings along this part of the trail, so wear closed-toe shoes. After passing Skipanon River Park, you’ll turn left onto Main Street and walk a few blocks before turning left onto 5th Street, where you’ll reconnect with the trail. From here, it’ll feel oddly like you’re walking through someone’s backyard before reaching the 8th Street Dam. From there, take the Skipanon River Trail Eastern Spur, a peaceful riverside trail with tall grass and wetlands. You’ll likely encounter herons, geese and ducks in the water, so there are plenty of photo opportunities. Once you reach Highway 1, you can make your way back and take a right at 8th Street Dam where you walk along grassy trail to the marina. Walk up to the road bridge and make a left to head back toward the trailhead.

Directions: Drive west on US 26 for about 70 miles before merging onto US 101 north. After 16 miles, turn left onto Harbor Drive, where you’ll drive almost 1.5 miles before turning right on Northeast Skipanon Drive. Make a quick left into the parking lot for Lighthouse Park.

Gnat Creek Hatchery

About 20 miles east of Astoria off Highway 30, “Gnat Creek” doesn’t exactly sound inviting, but it’s an ideal place to stop on your way to the coast. Constructed in 1960, the hatchery was built to raise Chinook salmon and steelhead. It has a show pond along with informational signs, an overlook to a 15-foot waterfall, and a fish feeding station—spring and summer are the best time to see migrating salmon and steelhead. From the hatchery, a few hiking trails wind through Clatsop State Forest, one of which leads to a campground. The area is also open to mountain bikers. The shaded trail system takes you through a lush coastal rain forest of spruce, fern and hemlock. Watch for gnarled roots on the ground—they’re tripping hazards. You’ll pass Barrier Falls, a small waterfall that drops over a basalt shelf. Along the way are more interpretive signs, and you’ll likely notice a number of decaying stumps left over from decades of logging. Continue along the upper valley of Gnat Creek and you’ll eventually reach the Bigfoot Creek junction, where a bench overlooks the creek.

Directions: Follow US 30 west toward St. Helens. Once you pass St. Helens, it’s a little under 50 miles to Gnat Creek Hatchery. When you see the sign on your left, turn into the visitor parking area.

Kilchis Point Reserve

Declared a County Heritage Site, Kilchis Point Reserve is an important historical site owned and managed by the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum. The 200-acre natural area lies along Tillamook Bay and has over 2 miles of dog-friendly trails that weave through wetlands and woodlands. Kilchis Point was home to one of the largest Native American villages on the northern Oregon Coast as well as to Tillamook County’s first pioneer settler. There are three interpretive trails to explore, each highlighting a different part of the site’s history: Flora and Fauna, Native American Heritage, and Pioneer Settlement. An informational kiosk at the trailhead has a map of the trail network. Though the trails measure only 2.2 miles altogether, there are plenty of informational signs along the way. The woods are full of whistling songbirds and other critters—be careful of spider webs. You’ll eventually cross a footbridge over Doty Creek and then follow the trail to Tillamook Bay at Kilchis Point, where you’ll find a boardwalk that leads up to a gazebo viewpoint that stretches across the bay into the hillside. This is an ideal bird-watching spot where you’re likely to see great blue herons, great egrets and gulls.

Directions: Drive 18 miles west on US 26 and veer left into OR 6 west toward Tillamook/Banks. After about 50 miles, turn right onto Wilson River Loop and then make a sharp left onto Latimer Road North. Go about 2 miles and then turn right onto US 101 north. Drive 3 miles before turning left onto Warren Street and then left on Spruce Street. Pull into the parking lot at Kilchis Point Reserve.